Pang Ho-cheung is returning to his controversial best with his latest showbiz satire, Vulgaria. Edmund Lee meets the bad-boy writer-director.
Chinese cinema needs naughtier people – and I think I’m rather qualified to fill that role,” says Pang Ho-cheung proudly as we meet to chat about his latest film, Vulgaria. Not that any evidence is still required for the high-flying writer-director to justify his enfant terrible status, although it’s probably fair to say that he hasn’t hurt his reputation one bit with the new black comedy, in which a downtrodden film producer (played by Chapman To) struggles to recall whether he’s had sexual intercourse with a mule.
According to Pang, this flirtation with bestiality is indeed ‘90 percent based on a real-life incident’ which To actually experienced a decade or so ago, when the actor was still working for a debt collection agency. The full concept of Vulgaria then took shape as Pang was spurred on by the mainland Chinese government’s plans to gradually reduce the use of regional dialects (including Cantonese) in public media, as he strived to raise awareness on the issue among the younger generation. And so he says of his controversial comedy: “You’ll never have guessed that a film with non-stop swearing and a mule-fucking plotline would originate from the fight for freedom of a dialect’s [public] usage.” Indeed…
Vulgaria seems to mention genitals more than any film I’ve ever watched.
Among Cantonese-speaking films, I think this may be the champion.
There does appear to be a greater acceptance of profanity in Hong Kong cinema nowadays. For one thing, Love in the Buff (2012) is no longer put in Category III for its use of foul language – as Love in a Puff was (2010).
It’s true that Hong Kong’s censorship system has become more open and civilised. To be fair, profanity is not poison; it has an essential role to play in the Cantonese language – it’s not just about cursing others. What I hate most is this: why should profanity in English [be given the privilege of] being categorised as IIB but not Cantonese profanity? I believe it’s the censors’ rationale that English profanity is understood by less people – which means that [the censors] are fucking idiots. Isn’t it ridiculous to determine if profanity is allowed for a language based on the population’s literacy?
You’ve made fun of the more absurd side of the film industry in Vulgaria. Is it meant to be a commentary of sorts?
Well, no. This film has actually very little to do with the film industry; I’m only borrowing it as a background for me to tell some crazy stories. For instance, I don’t find showbiz especially chaotic. I’ve been asked by some whether I’m addressing the ‘unspoken rules’ of the film business – but that’s silly! There are just as many bosses in the big corporations out there who are fucking their secretaries. [Laughs] I mean, when compared to those secretaries, you’re talking about the film industry people only because they are prettier and better known to you.
There’s a common perception that Pang Ho-cheung, once an edgy filmmaker for an alternative audience, has now finally conquered the mainstream. What’s your thought on this?
I don’t think my films have changed. If you ask me now, I’ll say that both You Shoot, I Shoot (2001) and Men Suddenly in Black (2003) are movies for the mainstream – it’s just that this type [of black comedy] was relatively new to the [Hong Kong] audience back then. [Chinese blockbuster] director Feng Xiaogang watched Men Suddenly in Black in 2003, and he loved it. He told me that, had I been able to release it in mainland China, the movie could have taken over $1billion. However, he said, had I been able to tear my name off and stick his on the exact same movie, it could have taken $3b. [Laughs] So I said to him: “Thanks for being so honest!”
So, in your mind, who’s your target audience?
Generally speaking, I’m not trying to make movies for the alternative crowds; I’m only making movies that cater to young people as naughty and fun-loving as me. But since [the popularity of] Love in a Puff (2010), since [the film-watching population] has gotten used to me in a wider scale, they’re more ready to accept an alternative film like Vulgaria. [Adopts a curious tone] “So what is Vulgaria about? People say Pang Ho-cheung makes alternative movies that are very deep.” [Deadpans] “Not really. It’s simply about fucking a mule.” [Laughs] Very simple.
Vulgaria 低俗喜劇 opens on Aug 9.